TikTok users spread Pacific cultures

Thursday August 27, 2020 Written by RNZ / ABC Published in Small World
Mikaele Oloa has been creating popular TikTok videos about Samoan traditions. Photo: Supplied. Mikaele Oloa has been creating popular TikTok videos about Samoan traditions. Photo: Supplied.

More than 58,000 TikTok users have watched Mikaele Oloa slice a banana leaf to make an ula laufa‘i, a traditional Samoan necklace.

The 29-year-old has also filmed himself performing a fire knife dance, called the siva afi, inspiring some of his followers to try out the Samoan custom for themselves.

Oloa, who lives in Hawai‘i, said his most popular posts on TikTok were the ones that taught people about the Samoan culture.

“It blew up real fast,” he told the ABC.

In just four months,  Oloa’s TikTok channel has gained almost seven million likes and more than 630,000 followers.

His posts feature one-minute tutorials on how to weave bracelets, make coconut milk and create a fire using natural materials.

Oloa is one of many Pacific Islanders using the social media platform to celebrate and broadcast their culture.

Oloa’s TikTok channel has attracted fans from all over the world, with subscribers from as far afield as Saudi Arabia, Europe and India.

He said people were “intrigued” by the Samoan way of life.

“This is actually how the people in Samoa live,” Oloa said. “For me, when you’re a kid, you’re working out in the sun, farming, making the fire, you know, making the coconut milk. It’s a hard life in Samoa. But they make ends meet.”

But despite the platform’s growing popularity around the world, security on TikTok is coming under significant scrutiny.

TikTok is set to front an Australian parliamentary inquiry into foreign interference in the coming weeks over allegations it shares user data with the Chinese Government.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has already moved to force TikTok’s owner, Bytedance, to either sell or spin off the US arm of its business.

Annette Garae is a paediatrician from Vanuatu who recently started posting TikTok videos for a bit of fun.

“I found it educational as well, learning stuff on TikTok and just learning how to use the camera,” Dr Garae said.

But when category five Cyclone Harold struck Vanuatu at the start of this year, Dr Garae found another use for TikTok.

“The nurses were just flat out after the cyclone and then preparing the hospital for Covid as well,” Dr Garae said.

So as a celebration of Nurses Day, she decided to bring them together to learn and film a TikTok dance.

“Everyone laughed about it, and had so much fun. It was nice to see the nurses smiling and having a bit of fun, despite all the stress and challenges … every day with work,” she said.

Dr Garae’s new-found popularity on TikTok has also supported her work in health promotion.

She has used the platform to teach parents in Vanuatu how to discuss difficult health topics like vaccination and injections with their children.

Some of her young patients even call her the “TikTok doc”.

Dr Garae said TikTok also allowed her and other Pacific users to reconnect with their culture in a new way.

“Users from the Pacific showcase their culture and tradition through their dances,” she said.

“You start thinking of your friends in the Pacific and then you realise, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together!’ It’s a nice feeling. There is very little talk about data security.”

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